South Korean Prosecutors Indict Japanese Reporter

kpopluv, Oct. 9, 2014, 9:10 a.m.

South Korean prosecutors indicted a Japanese journalist late Wednesday on a charge of defaming President Park Geun-hye by citing local rumors about her alleged activities immediately following a deadly ferry sinking in April.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors office said a report written by Tatsuya Kato, then Seoul bureau chief for the Sankei Shimbun, on Aug. 3 was based on “false facts,” the newspaper and South Korean media reported. Mr. Kato has been questioned three times by prosecutors and barred from leaving the country but hasn't been detained, according to the Sankei. Both Mr. Kato and his lawyer couldn’t be reached for comment.

In his report, Mr. Kato noted a major South Korean newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, had reported that Ms. Park ’s whereabouts during the first few hours after the April 16 ferry disaster were unclear. Mr. Kato also cited rumors among unnamed financial industry sources that Ms. Park had a personal meeting during that time. 

South Korea’s presidential office protested the Sankei report and threatened unspecified “grave action” against the newspaper. A spokeswoman for the presidential office declined to comment on the indictment of Mr. Kato or discuss what action the presidential office had taken or might take against the newspaper.

Presidential office officials say Ms. Park was within the presidential compound during the initial hours following the ferry sinking receiving briefings on the incident. No action has been taken against South Korean media outlets over the reporting of Ms. Park’s whereabouts.

The Sankei article was published on the newspaper’s website but not in print editions. Mr. Kato has been indicted on a charge of online defamation, which carries a higher penalty than offline defamation, due to an assumed higher speed in dissemination. The maximum penalty for online defamation in South Korea is seven years in prison. Offline defamation carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

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